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Home arrow Sociology arrow Bourdieu and Social Movements: Ideological Struggles in the British Anti-Capitalist Movement

Anti-neoliberalism as a master frame

Anti-neoliberalism and the AGM are wide and all-encompassing terms which refer to multiple groups and coalitions of political actors who have opposed the effects of market-based policies neoliberalism - that have been enforced by either the rules of supranational institutions (such as the World Trade Organization [WTO], the International Monetary Fund [IMF] and the World Bank) and or military action; and which, by and large, tend to benefit a wealthy minority. For at least two decades a diverse range of political actors, originating in the global south then spreading to the global north, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), activist groups, trade unions and other social movements have been mobilizing against neoliberal supranational institutions and multinational corporations, whom they see as responsible for driving neoliberal globalization. These mobilizations grew into what can be defined as a cycle of contention, that is:

a phase of heightened conflict across the social system: with a rapid diffusion of collective action from more mobilized to less mobilized sectors; a rapid pace of innovation in the forms of contention, the creation of new or transformed collective action frames; a combination of organized and unorganized participation; and sequences of intensified information flow and interaction between challengers and authorities. (Tarrow, 2011: 199)

These contentious political actors grew into a loosely connected network which has been dubbed the 'movement of movements', sometimes the 'alternative globalization movement [AGM]' (Mertes, 2004). Various other terms have been applied to this 'movement', depending on who is writing about it and what their political ideological position is: for example, anti-corporate (Starr, 2000) anticapitalist (Callinicos, 2003; Tormey, 2005) or anti-globalization (Held and McGrew, 2003). In social movement terms these positions are frames: they are intended to create a common concern and highlight a common struggle with other activists. However, these framing devices are competing to some extent, and may only appeal to certain groups of protesters. For example, it appears that the anticorporate position is more popular within US activist circles, for example, Starr (2000, 2005) and Klein (2001). It seems that the corporation is positioned as the enemy since it is driving globalization. The anti-capitalist frame is more popular within Britain (Callinicos, 2003; Carter and Morland, 2004; Tormey, 2005). The focus of this frame is that the capitalist system is at fault and corporations tend to be locked into a competitive dynamic which means they have to exploit people and the planet. Anti-neoliberalism, however, is a 'master frame' (Benford and Snow, 2000), which encompasses all other smaller frames and most of these activists' concerns; that is, the activists concerned are all anti-neoliberal to a greater or lesser extent. 'This master frame enables activists to link their experiences to one central source: neoliberal globalization. The Zapatistas were key to creating this master frame by arguing that their struggle was for "humanity and against neoliberalism" ' (Edwards, 2014: 176).

The anti-neoliberal master frame seems to be dominant in the literature on this movement of movements. For example, it has been argued that the imposition of market forces has created a democratic deficit, a depoliticization, and has therefore precipitated resistance (Smith et al., 2007). States and their elected or unelected governments are considered to be either unable or unwilling to alter such imbalances of power between citizens on the one hand, and global political institutions and corporations on the other (Hertz, 2001; Smith et al., 2007; Wainwright, 2003). An unlikely source of criticism, Joseph Stiglitz (2002), the former governor of the World Bank, has argued that (neoliberal) 'globalization is not working for many of the world's poor. It is not working for much of the environment. It is not working for the stability of the global economy.' More critical works have suggested that political elites as part of the G8 or G20 are quite happy with this situation, and are actively producing and reproducing social, political and economic inequalities (Hubbard and Miller, 2005). Therefore the idea of resistance and the promoting of a real globalization, a 'globalization from below', has emerged (Brecher et al., 2000; Starr, 2000). Other authors have had a straightforward reaction, which has been to argue for 'de-globalisation' (Bello, 2002) or to 'abolish' institutions like the IMF and the World Bank that are driving neoliberal globalization (Danaher, 2001). The title of Hardt and Negri's Empire (2000) is a direct reference to the domination of neoliberalism. Further, their 'sequel' book, Multitude (2005), refers directly to the masses of people resisting and opposing (the neoliberal) Empire. They argue:

The possibility of democracy on a global scale is emerging today

for the very first time____The project of the multitude not only

expresses the desire for a world of equality and freedom, not only demands an open and inclusive democratic global society, but also the means for achieving it. (Hardt and Negri, 2005: xi)

These texts are suggesting what I have argued elsewhere: that there is 'unity in opposition' to neoliberalism (Ibrahim, 2009). Other texts claim in a similar way that 'neo-liberalism is generating its opposite in the form of an "anti-capitalist mood" ' (Callinicos, 2000). The activist, writer and broadcaster Naomi Klein likens the resistance to 'a bad mood rising' (2003: 325):

while the latter half of the 1990s has seen the enormous growth in brands' ubiquity, a parallel phenomenon has emerged on the margins: a network of environmental labor and human rights activists determined to expose the damage being done behind the slick veneer. (2000: 325)

The connection between Klein's comments on the power of the brand boom rendering a situation of 'no space, no choice' and her argument for 'no logo' is not new. The social movements and protests she describes, such as the British anti-capitalists' direct action network, Reclaim the Streets, are clearly informed by 1960s surrealist activist Guy Debord and his book Society of the Spectacle, and the Situationist International (Debord, 1995 [1968]). One of the main propositions of the Situationist International was about the production and reproduction of alienation in an advanced capitalist society. Citizens and workers are in a state of alienation as both producers and consumers because of the private property relations that underlie the relations of production within capitalism. The protests in 1968 that Debord (1995 [1968]) documents and the 1999 global street parties by the British anti-capitalist contingent that Klein (2000) documents are there to achieve a disruption, a moment to pause, a space to stop and think, to help smash through the capitalist illusion of 'happiness', the 'slick advertising veneer' as it were. Marcos's (2001: 213) proposal 'to open a crack in history' is also very similar. Interestingly, Badiou (2012) uses a similar metaphor when discussing the riots that took place in France in 2005, the UK in 2011 and the uprisings in the Middle East the same year. He refers to how 'history is reawakening' and says that there is a 'reopening of history' (2012: 80). He argues that new situations are possible because of these events, and refers to resistance, struggles and a will on the part of the people not to accept the structures of neoliberalism.

This sort of disruption, and sometimes attempts at surrealism, is known as detournement (Debord, 1995 [1968]). The idea of detourne- ment is to subvert the system, to send a message other than the one that was intended, to somehow break through the nexus that is consumer-driven capitalism, which is ever more colonizing of the lifeworld through the promotion of a lifestyle which ultimately has an alienating effect on citizens in society. To go back even further in history, Debord's and Klein's arguments were made by Marx in Capital volume 1, where he discusses 'commodity fetishism' (1954 [1887]: 76).

One important and seminal text, published not long after the 'Battle of Seattle' protests, that is worthy of critical discussion is Amory Starr's (2000) Naming the Enemy. This text frames corporations and global political institutions as the enemy, and the movement of movements as made up of three distinctive modes of 'anti-corporate' activism. The three modes are: 'contestation and reform', 'globalization from below' and 'de-linking'. Of course Starr acknowledges that the categories are only separate at best conceptually, and any reader knows that these are ideal types. My criticism is not so much that the groups in one category could easily be moved into another category, which they could, but rather that the examples of organizations within one category are far too different to be in the same category, in terms of their political ideology and practice. This poses a problem: if the (empirical) examples of organizations are far too different to be placed in the categories in which they reside, then this is because the latter do not reflect accurately enough the organizations' ideological underpinnings, which are the guiding force of any concrete political action. In short, the ideology of such organizations is not given enough attention.

One of the implications of this is that the unity in opposition to forces of neoliberal globalization is false or, at best, both tenuous and fragile. Some authors might claim that the diversity of the movement of movements is a strength, at least in the interim, and I would not disagree (Hardt and Negri, 2005; Kingsnorth, 2004). This does not help us explain how conflict within the movement of movements emerges within and between sections, however, which is definitely a feature and a problem. My findings in later chapters suggest that, rather than analysing the movement of movements as a whole, focusing on smaller parts reveals significant differences of ideological practice. I argue that this provides a more accurate picture of the underpinning ideology and political practices of the British anti-capitalist groups. This ultimately contributes to the field of social movement analysis and specifically to study of contemporary British anti-capitalism.

There are a number of distinct ideological positions and practices within the broad umbrella of anti-neoliberalism that have influenced British anti-capitalist groups. They include Zapatismo, autonomism, anarchism and Marxist socialism. I now turn to the second aim of this chapter, which includes providing a general treatment of the key ideologies that have informed British anti-capitalism.

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